Mind of Darkness

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Chapter Two: Emily

“Where are you going?”

I pick up my pace and try to go faster. Try to escape subtly.

“Come back here!”

Throwing subtlety to the wind, I try to run like the wind. Have to get away. Have to get away. Have to-

“Get back here, Emily!”

Suddenly, arms grab me from behind and wrestle me to the ground and-

My hands hit concrete and my eyes fly open. Just in time to watch a car skid by, splashing a puddle in my face. I jerk back spluttering. “What’s going on?!”

“Emily!” my mother yells. “Are you awake?”

“Of course I am...” I glance back to find that the arms I am in are my panting father’s.

And it’s like the car splashed ice-cold water on my soul. “I was sleep-walking again, wasn’t I?”

Mom nods, her face pale as she stands in the sidewalk wearing a dressing gown thrown over her too-large Disney pajamas.

“Come on,” Dad says, barely releasing me to help me up. “Let’s get back home- we have much to discuss.”

~~~

“Maybe you shouldn’t go.”

I glance up from my mug of hot cocoa to stare at my parents to see if they’re serious. They are. “But I have too! I can’t exactly stay here, now can I?”

“Of course not,” Mom agrees. “But you can come with us. You know the Islanders would love to have you-”

“And you know I can’t go back. Not yet.” I stare past my parents, to my reflection on the microwave. My long, straight brown hair is plastered to my ghostly pale face by that disgusting street water. I look like a creature from darker fairy-tales, not the seventeen year-old high school graduate I’m supposed to be. Not ready to start college, for sure.

At least, that’s how my parents seem to see it. “We talked about this already. Christopher will be there too-”

Dad crosses his arms. “But Christopher won’t be sleeping under the same roof as you. At least he better not.”

“I’ll have a roommate. And I’ll explain my… condition to her. Make sure we keep the door locked or something like that.”

“Like we do?” Mom rubs her face before frowning directly at me. “You’re still technically a minor. You should come with us. Your foster siblings will love us all together in their birth home-”

“Oto and Ata will be just fine without me. And I’ll be just fine there. Tonight was an… anomaly.”

Dad frowns. “One anomaly is all that it’ll take to get seriously hurt, or worse.”

Mom moans into her hand.

I push my damp hair away from my face. “Please- this is the opportunity of a lifetime! It’ll help me figure out what to do next. And going back to the Island will only make my PTSD worse.”

Neither of them look terribly convinced.

So I go for my trump card. “Not to mention their world-renown therapists was one of the reasons we thought it would be a good idea for me to go. If anyone can help me, it’s them.”

Dad glances at Mom before turning back to me and sighing. “We’ll discuss this more in the morning. Go get some sleep.”

I nod and hope that sleep will be preparing me for the first day at my pre-college classes, not disappointment.

~~~

I wake up ready. Ready to convince Mom and Dad to let me go. Ready to have a proper summer. And most of all, ready to get a chance to get a head-start on the rest of my life.

I climb out of bed and change into a crisp, green blouse, a pair of tan capris, and a pair of tan loafers. To accessorize, I put on a green and white bead necklace that my cousin Mary-Ann made me (it’s one of many), a matching bracelet, and a genuine pearl ring that I purchased on my family’s Florida vacation and that’s been with me on all my crazy adventures last summer and that my boyfriend, Christopher Williams, used to (kind of) propose to me. I also grab my satchel which I never go anywhere without. It’s good to feel prepared.

Prepared to take my first step toward a future beyond my childhood alongside the man I love. First pre-college, then we’ll probably get engaged, then college, then we should probably get married, and after that- no idea. At all.

That was one nice thing about last summer, I suppose. I knew exactly what I was going to do next- stay alive.

Pushing away thoughts of the future, I focus on today and brush out my long, straight brown hair. Then I apply some eye makeup to highlight my large, green eyes before applying some lip gloss. I wish I could do something about my freckles, but I’m not allowed.

Then I do my devotions before leaving my room. The house is still quiet- obviously my cousins are still asleep, so I do my best to keep it that way.

Since no one else is awake, I take it upon myself to make breakfast.

“Trying to prove you’re responsible?”

I glance up to see my mom leaning on the door frame, dark circles under her eyes as her brown hair falls unkempt around her face.

“I shouldn’t have to prove anything,” I answer, flipping the sausages. “I proved I was capable of taking care of myself and others just fine when the stakes were much higher last summer.”

“And I do trust you, hon. When you’re awake.”

Pursing my lips, I scramble the eggs more fiercely. “You’re going to have to let me go someday.”

“No I don’t,” Dad says, striding in as he wipes his glasses on the front of his shirt.

I turn to stove off and cross my arms as I turn to face them. “Oh, so it’s okay for Ata- who is a year younger than I am, by the way- to be engaged, but I can’t take a pre-college scholarship that was generously rewarded to me just for being famous?”

“You can.”

“I mean, this is a chance of a lifetime-”

“I said you can.”

“If you really want, we could probably get my Joseph to come too, since he also got invited. Keep him away from Ata for the summer-”

Mom claps her hands together, startling me.

“We said you can,” Dad adds.

I blink. “I can?”

“If that’s what you really want. I mean, you have breakfast to think about it. You are a mature young woman, and we do trust you. So we’re leaving this up to your judgment.”

I blink again. “Really?”

They both nod.

And I smile. Because I am so, totally, going.

Suddenly, Uncle Gerald and Oto both charge in, startling us all.

Dad and I frown at our respective younger brothers, who just glance around at all of us in confusion. “I smelled breakfast.”

~~~

Uncle Gerald and Oto are only the beginning of the onslaught. Chase and Mary-Ann skip in soon after, followed by Aunt Donna. My sister gracefully slides in- so unlike her twin brother though they have the same black curls and tan skin I will always be envious of.

And at the stroke of nine, Grandmother graces us with her presence. Her regal brow creases when she sees me. “This doesn’t have to be our last family breakfast for the summer- are you sure you don’t want to come with us to Emily Island, Emily?”

Not facing my parents, I nod.

Mary-Ann reaches for the maple syrup. “But it’s named after you.”

“Yeah,” Chase mutters, his fork missing his sausage. “Even though I asked for it to be named after me first.”

“Hey, I didn’t ask at all,” I say. “Christopher did it all on his own.”

Chase grunts. Then he sneaks a piece of his pancake to Ollie, Mary-Ann and his cat, which will eat anything but baked beans.

I turn from Ollie to face my parents. “Besides, I really, really want to do the Yin Program. It’s extremely elite, and if I do it, I won’t have any trouble getting into a college.”

“You wouldn’t have any troubles anyway,” Dad mutters. “You’re clever enough on your own.”

I blush duck my head.

Grandmother sniffs. “College smollege. Have you given any thought to what career you want?”

“Well… yes.”

“And?”

“No idea- but I do know that I want to major in biology.”

Grandmother stirs her coffee (England dwellers or not, except for Oto and Ata, we were all born in America). “So you want to be a scientist?”

“I don’t know.”

Grandmother shakes her head. “You can’t be so indecisive.”

Aunt Donna pats her mother-in-law’s hand. “It’s okay, Ruth. I didn’t know what I wanted until I met Gerald.”

Uncle Gerald grins. “Then you knew you wanted to be my wife, right?”

“No- your secretary.”

“Which is almost as important,” Grandmother says. “I needed some help keeping you three dreamy inventors rooted in reality.”

Uncle Gerald buries his head in his hands. “You give advice for advertising a better crop duster once and you never hear the end of it.”

Grandmother arches one regal eyebrow. “You wanted me to say ‘it’s so simple, a pig could fly it.’”

Mom turns to me “Oh, are you sure you’ll be all right up here without us, Emily?”

“I’ll be fine,” I assure. “It’s not like I’ll be alone; Christopher’s coming too.”

“He’ll keep her safe,” Oto agrees. “He took a poisoned dart for her once, don’t you know.”

Mom pales.

I give Oto a not-helping look.

Oto grins back.

“Don’t you know?” Ata echoes before shaking her head. “You and your slang, Oto.”

The doorbell rings and I stand up. “That must be Christopher and Joseph.”

However, when I open the door, I find a girl with long, red curls pulled into a ponytail, mischievous, blue eyes, and wearing a leather jacket over a frilly, purple top.

“Holly,” I greet.

“Hi.” She cranes her neck to look past me. “Do I smell pancakes?”

“Yes, you do.”

“Then move aside.” Holly hurries towards the kitchen.

I roll my eyes and move to close the door, but then I see Christopher’s red sports car pull into our driveway, next to Holly’s motorcycle.

I watch as two eighteen-year old boys, best friends and neighbors, climb out. Joseph emerges first, his dark hair a strange contrast to his pale skin.

But my eyes quickly glance over my sloppily dressed brother-in-law-to-be to the tall, blonde angel-among-men. His golden hair reflects the rare sunlight of Leeds, and his blue eyes show me the sky even on the dreariest day. And his jaw...

Joseph nearly bumps into me, startling me out of my daze. He just stares at me for a moment. “I smell pancakes. I should go help Ata eat them.” With that, Joseph hurries past me.

I blink. “Fiancés say the weirdest things.”

“Joseph always says the weirdest things.”

Turning, I find myself staring at a button-down shirt. I bring my eyes up to meet Christopher’s. “You got a point. So where’s your dad?”

Another sleek sports car pulls up.

“Right there.”

As if to prove him right, Mr. Williams, an older, be-speckled version of Christopher, climbs out of the car. As does Mr. Jones, who is an older, better dressed version of Joseph.

“The company’s all here,” I say.

“The Rogers and Company,” Christopher agrees.

~~~

“We’re leaving now,” Christopher announces to our mingling families as he leans on the polished wood cane he claims is more for decoration than actual use.

“So soon?” Mr. Williams asks.

Christopher nods. “Classes start tomorrow, and Emily and I need time to get settled in.”

Mr. Williams sighs. “Good-by then, Son. Emily.”

Mom gets up to hug me. “You two take care of yourselves.”

Dad joins us. “And remember whose you are.”

“Bye, everyone,” Christopher says.

“Love you all,” I add.

A chorus of ‘byes’ and ‘love you too’s’ echoes back.

“Enjoy your self-inflicted torture,” Holly says before forcing a shudder. “Ugh; summer school.”

“Yeah, go learn stuff,” Joseph adds.

Ata nods.

“But don’t let them learn you too much,” Oto counters.

Ata glares at him.

“Good luck,” Grandmother calls.

I cough. Luck and I don’t exactly get along.

“And watch out for the Masters,” Chase adds.

Mary-Ann begins to nod before stopping and glaring at him. Everyone else glares at him too. Why’d he have to go and drag Masters into this? We’re finally safe from them.

I glance at Christopher’s leg as he makes his way to the door to open it. For all he claims about that cane, I still see a slight limp. The effects of that family still haunting us.

When Christopher and I finally make it to his car, his lips are doing that twitchy thing they do when he’s holding back a smile. “Well, that took longer than I thought it would.”

I shrug. “I expected as much. Um, Christopher?”

“Yes?”

“Do you know what career you want? I mean, besides being an Olympic athlete...” I blush and look down.

Christopher doesn’t follow my gaze to his leg. “I don’t think that’s my calling anymore. I just know I want something more than running business- no offense to my father. What about you?”

“No idea.”

“Well then,” Christopher says, pulling out of the driveway, “let’s go find out together.”

~~~

I look up at the large, new building that is the latest addition to Oxford University. It’s a hybrid of classicism and modernism, but unlike many hybrids, it’s appealing to the eyes.

Christopher takes my hand in his. “Let’s go get checked in.”

I nod and together we walk inside a large hall with a floor so polished that it resembles glass. A large statue of a daisy with two leaves stands in the center of the room. On one leaf perches a small, metallic dove. On the other leaf is a long, metallic ribbon that flows off the leaf on the ground in graceful waves. When I get closer to the ribbon, I read this inscription carved into it:

The Fates daren’t cut our lives short any longer.

What an odd motto for a school.

“Emily?” Christopher calls from the corner of the hall, where he stands next to a polished receptionist desk.

“Coming!” I hurry over.

“Emily Rogers?” the receptionist, a woman who seems just as polished as her desk, asks.

“I am she.”

“ID please.”

I nod and hand her my driver’s license.

The receptionist scans it and then hands it back with an ID card. “Walk straight down that hallway and out the door. Outside you’ll find two large buildings. The one on the right is the girls’ dormitory. This card will serve as your key as well as your ID.

I study the card with the lackluster picture I had to send in to them last month. “Thank you.”

The woman nods and Christopher and I follow her directions outside.

“See you at dinner then,” Christopher says, handing me my suitcase.

“See you then.” Taking a deep breath, I step into the building on the right.

The main hall of the girls’ dorm is much more casual than the school’s hall, despite the identical receptionist desk in the corner. Half of the room is devoted to red and black lounge furniture and a massive flat-screen television which several teenage girls are already making useful.

I walk over to the receptionist desk where a bored-looking receptionist with shifty eyes (probably from trying to see over people in attempt to watch the television) is waiting.

I hand her my card. “I’m here to check in.”

The woman nods and mutely scans my key card into her computer. Then she points down the hallway.

I reclaim my card and make my way down the hallway pointed out to me. According to my key card, I need room 175. I don’t find it in that hallway, so I step into the elevator. Then I wander around the second floor for a while until I notice a teenage girl with a black bob, heavily-mascara-ed eyes, and a Disney-themed top.

I do a double-take. “Mickey?!”

The girl whirls around and grins. “Emily?!” Then she pulls me into an unexpected hug. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Well, random reunions seem to be the story of our lives.”

Mickey shrugs. “It’s been so long since we last talked.”

“I just called you the other day.”

“Exactly; it’s been an eternity.”

I raise an eyebrow.

“So, how are you?” she asks. “Are you and Christopher still going out? Is Christopher here?”

Before I have a chance to answer any of her questions, she cries, “Wait! Which room do you have?”

“175.”

Mickey squeals. “I have room 174. We’re neighbors!” She claps her hands together and jumps up and down.

“Uh, do you know where my room is then?”

“Oh, totally. I just came from my room. I’ll show you the way.” She grabs my arm and drags me down the hallway.

I have to run to keep up with her and hope we don’t get kicked out before coming to a halt outside the rooms with our numbers hanging on them. “Ta-da!”

Taking a step back, I nod as I try to catch my breath. “Wow. Thanks.”

“No problem. Wow, we’re neighbors. This is so great! Too bad we’re not roommates, though. Oh!” Mickey jumps and removes a phone from her pocket. She reads something on it and frowns (unusual for her). “Got to take this. See you later.”

“Later,” I agree before Mickey disappears into her room.

Wow, that girl’s more enthusiastic than both my cousins combined. Well, it’s nice to have another familiar face around.

I place my key card into my bedroom door. Pushing open the door, I find a completely spotless dorm bed, bed stand, and desk. Then I turn my head and find the other half of the room is a completely cluttered reflection of it.

A teenage girl wearing all-black clothing, sliver jewelry (including two earrings in each ear), and more makeup than I’ve ever been allowed to wear at once, is plopped down on the bed. It takes me a moment to look past the apparel and see a pretty girl with strawberry blonde hair (with a purple streak in it) a few inches shorter than my own, purple eyes, and a bored expression.

I tentatively lift a hand. “Uh, hi. I’m Emily Rogers.”

“I’m Violet Strokes,” she answers with a calmly bored yet assertive voice, barely looking up from her magazine. “You keep your stuff on your side of the room and mind your own business and we’ll get along just fine.”

“Okay.” No need to anger anyone who looks like they could tear me to pieces without even breaking a nail.

Not sure what else to say, I take in the rest of the bedroom: a bathroom door; an open, half-filled closet; and a half-cluttered dresser.

“And if you’re a neat-freak,” Violet adds, closing her magazine and inspecting dark purple nails, “well, I don’t care.”

I force a smile and push my organizing self to the back of my mind (where it protests loudly). “Okay.”

Violet looks up from her nails and studies me. I do my best not to fidget.

She cocks her head at me. “You know, I’ve decided that I like you, so I’m going to give you a little heads-up. Now, I’ve only been here since yesterday, but I’ve noticed that there’s something strange going on. Just thought I’d warn you.” With that, Violet Strokes plucks up a nearby fashion magazine and promptly ignores me.

An adjusted mental list of all the unusual people I’ve met in my life:

(1) Our next door neighbor at our second house who stole anything we left outside and sold it on Ebay;

(2) My junior high science teacher who got too much pleasure from cutting up frogs;

(3) Oto, who killed a bear the first time I met him;

(4) Ata, who was about to be whipped to death the first time I met her;

(5) The Masters, who are seriously messed up;

(6) Joseph- need I say more?

(7) Holly, who is part of the mystery that is Oto’s past (and she makes a leather jacket and a girly top look good together which is downright unnatural);

(8) Mickey, who gives me whiplash;

(9) Madame Monique, who is unnaturally hospitable;

(10) Violet, who gives the Masters a run for their money in the scariness department;

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